New Study Reveals Vulnerabilities for 14 Million Structures Across the Western U.S.
Mary Anne Byrd
Connie Bryant Breedlove
Managing Director, Communications
Richburg, SC, Nov. 2, 2023 – New research shows few states and counties with the greatest wildfire risk are using sound regulatory approaches backed by consistent enforcement.
Living with Wildfire – a report from the Insurance Institute of Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®) and Verisk, examined community vulnerability and wildfire readiness around the wildland-urban interface (WUI) in 13 Western states.
Separating wildfire safety from traditional building codes and a lack of clear guidance on how to integrate them has resulted in limited use by state and local officials.
“California and Utah are the only Western states with uniformly enforced statewide codes specifically addressing wildfire exposures to residential and commercial properties,” said IBHS Managing Director for Standards & Data Analytics Dr. Ian Giammanco. “A few local jurisdictions have proactive approaches, but they stand in sharp contrast to the majority of counties and local communities that largely fail to comprehensively address wildfire risks through building codes and up-to-date planning activities.”
While 45 million structures are at risk nationwide, roughly 14 million U.S. structures are at risk from wildfire across the 13 Western states, according to Verisk’s Wildfire Risk Analysis. Due to population growth, inadequate fuel management practices and the limited use and enforcement of WUI building codes, community wildfire risk is higher than ever and exacerbated by climate change.
Despite a federal mandate requiring Community Wildfire Protection Plans in areas adjacent to national forests and rangelands, one in four high-risk counties studied lacked plans to adequately address the risk. Seventeen percent of the counties examined had not updated their plans in over 10 years.
“NFPA, IBHS and Verisk, among many organizations, have long recognized that implementing and enforcing statewide policies play a critical role in reducing wildfire’s impact on people and property,” said Michele Steinberg, director of the NFPA wildfire division. “This report confirms that the majority of states and jurisdictions at highest risk to wildfire aren’t putting the needed requirements and measures in place to effectively mitigate wildfire risks. Sadly, as long as they don’t, communities will continue to pay a high price in the wake of wildfires.”
The study also shows there is no correlation between the amount counties spend on wildfire-related activities and the use of WUI codes or community wildfire preparedness plans in those counties.
“Verisk supports coordinated research and education to help reduce the scope and severity of wildfire losses,” said Dr. Arindam Samanta, director of product management, Verisk Underwriting Solutions. “This collaboration represents another step in Verisk’s efforts to help insurance carriers manage wildfire risk and to build stronger, more resilient communities.”
Wildfire disasters affect not only lives and property, but the safety and effectiveness of the fire service, the ability of businesses and local governments to recover and the insurance industry’s ability to provide a financial safety net for people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
The report notes local fire departments serve as a vital and trusted communications link for communities to understand how to reduce risk. However, support for inspection and outreach programs is highly variable across the West because local fire departments often lack both the needed training and financial resources.
About the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)
The IBHS mission is to conduct objective, scientific research to identify and promote effective actions that strengthen homes, businesses and communities against natural disasters and other causes of loss. Learn more at ibhs.org.
About the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®)
Founded in 1896, NFPA® is a global self-funded nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information, visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
Verisk (Nasdaq: VRSK) is a leading strategic data analytics and technology partner to the global insurance industry. It empowers clients to strengthen operating efficiency, improve underwriting and claims outcomes, combat fraud and make informed decisions about global risks, including climate change, extreme events, ESG and political issues. Through advanced data analytics, software, scientific research and deep industry knowledge, Verisk helps build global resilience for individuals, communities and businesses. With teams across more than 20 countries, Verisk consistently earns certification by Great Place to Work and fosters an inclusive culture where all team members feel they belong. For more, visit Verisk.com and the Verisk Newsroom.